Are rogue police officers running a cash-for-freedom racket that helps crime suspects escape from lawful custody?
On March 4, Eliud Irungu Muguro, a robbery with violence suspect, escaped as he was about to board a police vehicle at Kigumo Law Courts to be taken to Murang’a Prison remand.
Muguro, 37, was on the run until May 25 when he was arrested by citizens at Boarder Estate.
When he appeared in court on May 31, the prosecution argued against his release on bond saying he should be in detention during trial as he was a flight risk.
“He should be held in custody for the period his case will be ongoing since he has proved he can abscond proceedings at the least prompting. He had escaped legal custody and we had to invest a lot of resources and man-hours to re-arrest him,” Chief Inspector Juma Mangut told the court.
Senior Principal Magistrate Shivai Agade then turned to the suspect and asked him: “Is it true you had escaped from custody?”
The suspect responded with a stunning allegation.
“I did not escape your honour. I gave Sh10, 000 to the corporal who was guarding us and he gave me permission to go in peace. The officer made me believe it was regular to pay the cash and my case ends,” Muguro claimed.
The magistrate then remarked that the warrant of arrest against the suspect explained the issue.
Since no new charges had been preferred against the suspect with regard to his escape, the magistrate noted that the robbery with violence trial would proceed.
Legal custody escape
“Before the court is the case file 200/2019 where you are charged with robbery with violence and you had taken a not guilty plea. That is from where we will pick it up,” the magistrate said as she fixed June 16 as the mention date.
Asked about the bribery claims by the suspect, Central Regional Commissioner Wilfred Nyagwanga said investigations would be done.
“It is disturbing that an officer can be said to have received Sh10,000 to help a person in legal custody escape. I hope the suspect is lying. But if investigations prove that indeed it was the case, the officer will be treated as a criminal,” said Mr Nyagwanga.
The Nation learnt that the suspect had mentioned the name of the corporal, who was at the time serving at Sabasaba Police Station but has since been transferred.
In the same court, police had arraigned another suspect, David Kung’u Ndung’u, who had also escaped from Maragua Police Station in March.
Ndung’u, 19, also claimed he had bribed guards to be allowed to escape. The suspect, who is also facing robbery with violence charges, was arrested by police officers at Ichagaki during a raid on a bar that was selling past 7pm, breaking Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Nyagwanga ordered that the matter be investigated, too, and a report filed to explain the circumstances under which he escaped from armed police guard during the day.
A confidential source in the National Police Service (NPS) told the Nation that aiding suspects and convicts escape from custody is booming business for rogue officers.
“Mostly the business rotates around petty offenders,” said the source, adding the cartel includes officers from the Kenya Prison Service (KPS) and NPS.
Selling freedom to suspects
“Under normal circumstances, the KPS vehicle reports to the station to collect those to be charged. The KPS security officers are joined by NPS officers assigned court duty. Out of the station, the officers conspire to collect money from the suspects and destroy the charge sheets,” he claimed.
Usually, according to the source, those allowed to flee after parting with bribes are suspects who, upon conviction, would most likely be given noncustodial sentences, fined or released unconditionally.
“But there are times some of the serious offences’ suspects float irresistible deals. A suspect announces willingness to part with Sh100,000 to buy freedom and it becomes irresistible. It is under such circumstances that even serious offenders, remandees and convicts manage to escape. Without police collusion it is a near impossibility that one can escape legal custody,” the source explained.
Another officer said it was not possible to escape from police stations without the help of officers.
“The officers who help suspects in police cells take advantage of the weaknesses of the officers on duty. If the officers guarding the station are alcoholics, the scheming officers ensure that by 11pm, they are senselessly drunk. They then pass on hacksaws to the suspects and help them cut the grills and run to freedom,” he said.
The officer disclosed in most police stations, officers on night duty are mostly between two and four, while in some police patrol bases, there could be just one.
Those officers who help the suspects escape do so in the full knowledge that those to be held responsible are the officers on duty when the jailbreak occurred.
Our source claimed when there is a project to sell freedom to the suspects — sometimes the scheme allegedly involving the station boss — the cartel ensures that night sentries and the report office officers are individuals who love their drink.
Past cases of escape from custody include the February, last year, case of four robbery with violence suspects, who escaped from Sagana police station in Kirinyaga County. They also cut through the metal grills with a hacksaw.
Escape from police stations
The four had been arrested on allegations of attacking a police officer — Constable Morris Mwiti — as he manned a roadblock on the Murang’a-Sagana road, and dispossessing him of a firearm with 15 rounds of ammunition.
They were accused of using the weapon to rob a trader in Kiharu Sub County as well as executing robberies targeting M-Pesa outlets in Kirinyaga and Murang’a counties.
Detectives had asked Baricho Law Courts to allow them to detain the suspects for 14 days to conclude investigations.
On July 30, last year, six suspects escaped from Karuri police station in Kiambu County after cutting a metal grill on the window to their cell.
And 11 suspects had on August 16, last year, escaped from Bungoma police station after they dug a hole through a cell wall.
The escapees were said to have cut the angle line metal bar that reinforced the cell’s door and used it to dig the hole.
On September 15, last year, 10 male suspects escaped from Ndaragua police station in Nyandarua.
They were said to have cut the window grills at around 2am and managed to evade all the four police officers who were manning the station.
Nyandarua North Sub-County Police Commander Timon Odingo had told Nation that he suspected the escape was aided.